Saturday 7 November 2015

The Journey Of Vardan: Part 1

None are more hardworking than those in the extreme metal community. Whether they're writing, recording and releasing their own music, designing merch or artwork for themselves and others or playing in a myriad of projects all at the same time. They do it for the love of it and it shows in their productivity. There is however; a fine line between productivity and saturation. That last sentence brings me neatly onto Italian black metal band Vardan.

Vardan, depending on the way you look at it, has either been incredibly productive over the last two years or has saturated the underground black metal scene by releasing no less than 15 full-length releases (as well as a couple of splits). Now, I don't condone releasing music for the sake of it but you do have to applaud Vardan's passion. I mean, it took Iron Maiden 30 years to release that many albums!

The purpose of this feature though is not to criticise Vardan, in fact far from it. I want to shed both light and praise on Vardan for the vision and work ethic of it's sole member. This feature is split into two-parts and delves into some (not all) of those aforementioned full-lengths in some kind of chronological order.

...Dreaming ...Living My Funeral - Tracklist:-

1. Living My Funeral
2. Wandering Spirit
3. ...Dreaming (My End)
4. Cold Way To Exist

I begin my own journey into Vardan's discography with his second Moribund Records release, ...Dreaming ...Living My Funeral. This was my first glimpse into the dark, depressive world in which Vardan exists. It was released in the summer of 2013 (curiously) and was the follow-up to Lifeless Shadow, released just a month earlier. Opening with an instantly cold barrage on Living My Funeral, Vardan’s droning and hypnotic black metal bathes beneath a layer of feedback. It’s gloriously raw yet contains plenty of melody, that can even be heard above those terrifying screams. The songs contained on hear are more like droning hymns, but the ambience and melody that is woven into them remains untouched. Not content with brief soundbites, Vardan expands on the formula used in that opener and stretches it into the sprawling Wandering Spirit. It feels altogether more urgent, thanks to added guitar and percussion layers. There is respite mid-way through thanks to a quietly calming passage made up of lowly plucked guitar. Splitting a song of this length into sections makes sense, especially for those whose attention spans may be lacking! It certainly makes the impact better later on. The rawness takes over once again on …Dreaming (My End). It seems like a bit of a step back after the warmth of Wandering Spirit, but then this isn’t a pop album! I do have a lot of affection for releases like this, as I can hear and feel the emotion and passion that went into writing, recording and releasing it. That might sound too soppy for the stoney faced amongst you, but if you’re already into Vardan then you’ll know what I mean. In my opinion Vardan saves the best to last. Cold Way To Exist is musically one of the more creative songs on …Dreaming. Hearing black metal that stripped back to it’s bare bones like this is, it’s easy to think that it’s just made up of simple structures and rudimentary chords. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Vardan fills the song with mysticism and plenty of other-worldliness. It's easy to why Vardan is a solo-project after listening to this album. Solitude and soul-searching form part of a creative process that gives Vardan more meaning.

The Woods Is My Coffin - Tracklist:-

1. Night Of The Horned Rebirth
2. Luciferian Assault
3. Goatcraft
4. Dawn Of The Followers - Part 1
5. Dawn Of The Followers - Part 2

As is now customary with obscure black metal bands, you can find very little information about the origin of their releases. That is certainly true for The Woods Is My Coffin. Following on from …Dreaming …Living My Funeral, Vardan retains the raw sound and depressive atmosphere on Night Of The Horned Rebirth, but this time weaves in more ambient melody. The songs on The Woods Is My Coffin are also more focused. That new found focus is more obvious on Luciferian Assault, where the percussion rages mores than before during the opening passages. In an age where black metal is becoming more Post and introspective, Vardan provides something more akin to the old-school. The main riff in the song could even be considered catchy. As the pace and indeed the atmosphere changes at the midpoint, you can feel and hear the care and attention that Vardan places on his instrumentation. A song titled Goatcraft was always going to be nothing short of disgusting (in a good way). Seemingly taking his sound in a more menacing direction, Vardan once again changes the mood. His rasping shrieks sounding more and more possessed as the seconds tick by. Aside from the usual influences that are contained in The Woods Is My Coffin, Vardan lays down a concept of sorts with the two-part Dawn Of The Followers. After the barrage of Goatcraft, Dawn Of The Followers - Part 1 is weirdly soothing. It’s tempo is more solemn and it’s lyrical content and delivery is filled with more sorrow. The occasional acoustic passages show an often ignored sensitivity. After a brief pause,  Dawn Of The Followers - Part 2 shakes you into life with a more savage delivery. Subtly orchestral and symphonic in places, the ambient melody that's created by the guitars in the background comes across as very majestic, almost like they’re a call to arms. Switching between different tempos creates obvious movements within the song. It all fades out in a logical fashion to round out an album that proves as a definite progression of Vardan’s sound.

Enjoy Of Deep Sadness - Tracklist:-

1. A Broken Existence
2 Enjoy Of Deep Sadness
3. An Abstract Voice

There is one thing that you can rely on with Vardan, which is that he keeps you guessing. From the rawness of …Dreaming …Living My Funeral to the progression of The Woods Is My Coffin, there’s only been a faint blueprint for operation and the black metal contained within has been more than just ordinary. Vardan’s second Moribund full-length of 2014, Enjoy Of Deep Sadness feels immediately more depressive on album opener A Broken Existence. That depression here is spread over just three expansive tracks. Whereas The Woods Is My Coffin contains more melody (and even light), the music is darker and more stripped back here. A Broken Existence is filled with metallic bile and screams that are channelled from the netherworld. It’s harrowing but also cleansing. The title-track is subtly mellower. The guitar work is again the standout element in Vardan’s music for me. It just seems to drag you in and make you feel more attached to the song, which is quite an achievement. It’s that immersive-ness that makes the song’s near twelve-minute length flash by in what feels like a second. Vardan reaches yet another astral plain with An Abstract Voice, which aptly describes him. His gentler cries that are buried within mix sound like those of a tortured soul trying to escape and thanks to the great production, aren’t lost amongst the instrumentation. If you dip in and out of this record, you really won’t feel it’s warmth of it. Enjoy Of Deep Sadness is as swirling and as beautiful as black metal can get in my eyes. From it’s initial rawness it flourished into something more than just another album. Another surprise.

Verses From Ancient Times - Tracklist:-

1. I
2. II
3. III
4. IV

After a bit of downtime due to life, I was beginning to doubt that the albums I've been reviewing were in the correct chronological order, so apologies if things are a bit out of order. Verses From Ancient Times was Vardan's second full-length (first for Moribund Records) of 2015. Featuring four songs and an incredibly haunting album cover. The songs and their titles shrouded in mystery, presented only in Roman numerals. I’m beginning to really warm to Vardan’s take on black metal. It’s not for everyone granted, but it seems to really hit the spot after a frustrating working week. I is every bit the barrage I was hoping for. It seems to combine the ambient majesty of dare I say it…Deafheaven, while still remaining icy cold. Even with the catalogue featured in this piece you’d think that an artist would grow tired and lose creative momentum, but there’s no sing of that. Longer songs like I still benefit from distinct movements and lavish instrumental layers, that temper his screams. On hearing II, I’m reminded of what it was that made me take notice of black metal when I started this blog. The ability of the musician to make music that is so menacing and evil, yet play it so endearingly and genuine skill. I may not be worlds biggest expert on the sub-genre but I know how it makes me feel. II could almost be considered upbeat, especially during parts of the latter half of the song. Don’t take that to mean it’s suddenly become easy listening though! III follows Vardan’s formula for shorter and more urgent songs. It seems to really gain in momentum and the male-voice choral chants added to the song are perfect for the atmosphere Vardan is trying to create. It closes with IV, which sounds like it’s been crafted purposefully to follow on from III. It also proves why pauses between songs are pointless in certain situations, other that to help artists appeal to those with short attention spans. It ends like some sort of ghostly death march and with it any hope of a fulfilling and happy life. The mental pain continues.

The Night, The Loneliness - Tracklist:-

1. Pt 2
2. Pt 3
3. Pt 4
4. Pt 5
5. Pt 6

I'm rounding off  part 1 of this feature with an album that released on my birthday. Not sure why I thought you'd want to know that, but it's interesting to me. Anyway, the gloomy artwork Vardan's second Moribund Records release of 2015 tells you all you need to know. The songs are once again lurking under a veil of ambiguity and mystery. I’m not entirely sure which record Pt 1 was on, but Pt 2 opens up The Night, The Loneliness with a remarkably groovy percussion tempo. Vardan isn’t turning into a desert-rock band here though and his startling scream dispels any such notions. What is nice here though is the added melody from what sounds like an organ (maybe?) during the it’s opening half. The clean guitar later on adds more texture and it’s a great listen, though brief by Vardan’s standards. The metallic guitar during Pt 3 invokes subtle metal influences. Even though I’m only two songs into The Night, The Loneliness now, I can already see more progression and thought within Vardan’s music. A definite step forward. Pt 4 drones and lurches forward as if it’s going to be one long noise track, before small columns of light shine through the feedback-ridden guitar. Even when the volume does rise, that melody is still clear and welcoming. It floats straight into Pt 5, which builds on the cosmic feel of the album. I say cosmic because at times it sound very spacey and not as oppressive this time. It’s been quite normal of late to see bands that used to play black metal actually veering away from that narrow sub-genre and widening their musical palette (a perfect example is Twilight Fauna). Vardan seems to be doing that here. Final song Pt 6 gives you time for reflection. It’s mainly instrumental, but the sporadic screams and the choral singing that follows gives me the same chills that Caina’s Orphan did on Setter Of Unseen Snares earlier this year. It underlines what a great year 2015 has been for black metal. Vardan richly deserves the credit he is getting. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into writing part 2 of this feature in a couple of weeks.

You can purchase all of the above albums directly from Moribund Records here -

Vardan Official Facebook -
Moribund Records Facebook -

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